As Covid travel restrictions are lifted, could this newfound freedom allow remote workers to work from anywhere in the world and what does that involve?
The past 18 months have proved that working from home can be just as productive, if not more so, than being tethered to an office desk. With international travel opening up again, some businesses are looking to loosen the rules further by offering employees the chance to spend part of the year working abroad.
Before the pandemic, the freedom to combine work and travel was mostly enjoyed by a small number of tech-savvy freelancers, the types you see sharing aspirational LinkedIn posts as they work on their laptops from hammocks in Bali. However, the pandemic provided a turning point. From 2019 to 2020, the number of digital nomads grew by 50% to almost 11 million, according to a survey of US employees by MBO Partners, with full-time workers now making up the majority.
One company offering its employees the chance to work from anywhere is Blueground, which introduced its Nomads programme in May 2021. Blueground provides short- and long-term luxury rental accommodation in 15 cities across the world and now offers its employees discounted rents to work in one of its global markets each year.
The flexibility to choose
Explaining the new programme, company co-founder and CEO Alex Chatzieleftheriou says: “I believe that experiencing different locations and cultures helps to broaden one’s perspective. We’re seeing more of our guests living a nomadic lifestyle, and we recognise that we can offer our team members the flexibility to choose where they live and work too.”
There are no restrictions on where Blueground employees can choose to work, although there are perks — including two weeks’ free rent each year — for those who opt to work from one of company’s apartments. Since launching the policy, seven staff have permanently relocated to a new country, while 10 have chosen to work abroad for shorter periods, including two members of the sales team who called into work while travelling in Alaska.
Chatzieleftheriou expects this number to increase as people become more comfortable with travelling again. He adds: “We’re fortunate to be able to open the door to opportunities and new life experiences for our employees. From an organisational perspective, we believe that a flexible programme like this will lead to improved employee wellbeing and motivation.”
Although Blueground’s presence in many countries makes organising its Nomads programme simpler, there are still challenges. Chatzieleftheriou says that communication and an awareness of different national working norms are important. For example, the working week in countries such as Dubai and Israel runs from Sunday to Thursday. To accommodate these differences, full team meetings tend to be held on common workdays. There is also an expectation that remote workers in different time zones will adapt their hours to fit in with those in other locations. Chatzieleftheriou says: “We review each case together with our in-house legal and tax advisers to understand the individual’s circumstances. So far, we haven’t had any cases where a solution wasn’t possible.”
Implementing a WFA policy
UK fintech company Revolut also introduced a work-from-abroad (WFA) policy earlier this year, which enables its employees to work for up to 60 days a year in a destination of their choice, providing they have the right to work there.
The digital bank employs people from more than 80 countries, so the decision to allow employees to work from another country came from a desire to allow its workforce to reconnect with family members. Revolut’s vice-president of people Jim MacDougall says: “We wanted to enable employees to spend extended quality time overseas, which has been limited since Covid hit, and allow people to spend more time with family and friends.”
The company is currently offering the option to work from anywhere as a discretionary perk but there are plans to make it a permanent part of employment contracts. PR and communications manager Chiara Baroni was one of the first to take up the opportunity to work abroad, swapping the “gloomy German winter” for Tenerife. She says: “The Canary Islands are a booming scene for digital nomads these days. Being able to connect with people and draw inspiration from them was very important to me; I felt more creative and had a lot more energy while working there.”
Although the experience of working from anywhere may sound appealing to employees, it can create headaches for HR and finance departments. Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Jo Mackie says: “There are limitations on how long you can work in other countries, and if you outstay your welcome you could end up in breach of their laws.”
Rules vary from country to country, making it difficult to have a generic work-from-anywhere policy. Variations can include tax implications, working visas and entry requirements, although UK employment law will remain applicable for anyone on a UK-based contract, according to Mackie. “HR and businesses need to seek advice now if they wish to add this work-from-abroad option to the range of perks already offered to employees,” she adds.
At Revolut, the decision to limit stays to 60 days was a result of tax and visa considerations. The company hoped to offer employees 90 days, but its finance teams concluded that shorter trips would comply with the corporate tax and immigration laws across a wider range of countries, making implementation of the policy less complex.
Similarly, Spotify had to rein back its promise of allowing its employees to work from anywhere to instead offer a policy that allows staff to work in a country where it already has a presence. “Multinational companies will find it easier to organise transfers to an office in a different country on a work visa,” Mackie says. “You are able to do some things without getting a visa or permit, such as travelling for a business meeting, but in terms of actually working in another country, you will need to ‘fess up – you can’t just say you’re a tourist.”
None of these factors should prevent companies from allowing their employees to work from abroad, but it does make the process more difficult. While the opportunity to work from sunnier climes may appeal to workers whose ability to travel has been restricted over the past year, employers will need to check any rules and regulations carefully before offering the perk to all employees.